The Miami Art Fairs and the the upcoming Los Angeles Art Show make it clear that there are a lot of artists, emerging and established, vying for wall space be it in your museums or your home. In Los Angeles, there are gallery shows opening every weekend, and thousands of artists hoping to hang their work on the walls, while art websites get a steady stream of submissions and notification about artists and their events.
A relatively small percentage of artists make it through the first gate of reaching an audience; most go unknown and unrecognized–though possibly emotionally fulfilled by their creativity–except by a handful people. Before social media, many artists handled their own PR, sending out postcards to mailing lists and press releases to news papers and magazines, hoping for a listing and a review, preferably a good one, as well as sales.
Now in the 21st century, new platforms have arisen that allow artists and galleries to reach more people, but those people are also being reached by more artists, galleries, and event promoters. And even with undeniable talent, hard work, and a good Facebook list, so much artistic success is predicated on “right place right time,” “who you know,” “academic recognition,” “going viral,” “luck,” and other nebulous intangibles. Some or all of those intangibles fall under the purview of the publicist whose job it is to help the client achieve recognition. And it is a job; publicists are paid, up front, often for several months in advance with no guarantee of results; they are intangibles wrangling even more intangibles.
That being said, for many artists and galleries, the publicist plays an important part in the arsenal of success. Whether starting at the grass-roots level or working at the corporate level, strategies may differ, but the goal of the publicist remains the same: To raise awareness. The role and style of public relations can vary from publicist to publicist as well as from artist to artist and gallery to gallery. Each campaign and client has its own flavor, and for the publicist, there are many factors and wild-cards involved when working with an artist. Is the artist newsworthy? Is the artist even PR-worthy? Even with a notorious client, it takes a lot of skill and strategy, as well as a commitment on both parties’ sides, to build an artist’s popular awareness.
While a publicist may not be necessary, especially for artists staring out (we cover many artists who don’t have publicists), for some artists, a publicists is a tool, like their brush or spray cans. In Los Angeles, a diverse group of professionals focus their wits and skill to get their clients noticed locally, nationally and internationally. And often their hard work pays off not only in the recognition their clients receive, but in seeing their clients grow and develop as people and as talent, and helping dreams becoming reality.
Art isn’t typically the topic of conversation for most people, unless you’re living in places such as Los Angeles or New York or Miami, where art is everywhere and easy to access. Most people discuss the latest celebrity mishaps, the movie they saw last night, or even an upcoming game, but rarely about art or artists. I want art to be a typical topic of conversation and that’s why I do art publicity.
Cory Allen has a distinct style of doing business. His inspirations for his PR methods are the wickedly clever circus promoter historically known for outrageous antics P.T. Barnum, and sculptor Daniel Edwards, whose mentoring was critical to CACA’s success. It’s not always an easy road for Cory Allen considering the controversial artists he promotes, and there can be difficulties.
It all truly varies. Sometimes it’s the feedback from the media and the negative comments from the public. Sometimes it’s overcoming cease and desist letters from Justin Bieber, Newsweek, and many others (which is great content for an upcoming book I’m putting together.) Most of the time, it’s simply searching for particular variables that will support the artist’s image and message. It can be very difficult to create the appropriate level of attention and channel of communication between the artist and the public when in the spotlight.
Heidi Johnson is the owner and publicist of Hijinx PR, with clients that include Allison “Hueman” Torneros, Eric Joyner, Jim Mahfood, Dave Pressler, and Daniel Leighton. Born in Los Angeles into an artistic family, Heidi Johnson says she always considered herself an art groupie. Like many, her career took a circuitous path before becoming an art publicist. Her first forays into PR occurred at the height of the dot-com boom while working on the very first dot-com Super Bowl commercial. And then with Weegie the cat as her first official “client,” she led the effort to get Weegie the cover of Cat Fancy magazine. And that was only the start of her career.
I started at a small firm called RBI Communications and then moved to a bigger firm, Magnet Communications, which handled more lifestyle accounts. After that I made a leap to NYC to go in-house for a design firm. When I moved back to LA, I wanted to work for myself so I very slowly started taking clients. I started on my own with a motley crew of clients, including Engelbert Humperdinck. I used to pride myself as being the “Broadway Danny Rose” of publicists.
Finally, a chance arrived to do public relations for artist Jim Mahfood, so Heidi Johnson jumped at the opportunity. This relationship provided the catalyst for her to start her PR company and to work with a wide variety of artists. Many publicists find their responsibilities expanding to include personal management as well, and Heidi is among those.
I’m moving my business model more into management with PR services. Specifically this is how I work with Allison Torneros and it’s been a good partnership so far. PR has changed and what works for artists is very different than other industries. The roles are changing. Artists want more of a voice and more power over the work and the deals that are made for their behalf. Art has become entertainment; the exclusive artist/gallery model isn’t working for most artists anymore. There are many opportunities out there that go beyond a gallery. Don’t get me wrong we love galleries and they are vital to an artist’s career but they are focused on selling works. I’m focused on getting the artist known and finding ways to do that outside of the gallery.
Lee Joseph of Lee Joseph Publicity is an noticeable and stylish fixture on the LA music scene, known for his bands and his record label, Dionysus Records. He fell into his public relations career while working as a DJ and booking agent for Los Feliz’s groovy Bigfoot Lodge. With the encouragement of the bar’s owner, Lee began promoting his shows at the club, which led to him doing full-time publicity for the venue. With an interest in the local L.A. art scene it was an easy transition into his own PR company.
In the mid-late ’00s, I had several artist friends. I had been attending a lot of art shows and wanted to be a part of the great energy I felt from the local art scene. I took my ideas about art PR to several artist friends as well as Billy Shire, who all liked the concept. At the time, visual art PR mostly existed in the “fine art” universe… there was only one other person doing Low-Brow / Pop Surrealism art PR locally.
Lee Joseph’s main client and extended family is La Luz de Jesus Gallery / Wacko / Soap Plant. He also works with Designer Con, the super hip yet incredibly friendly convention Tiki Oasis, art fair Beyond Eden (with Andrew Hosner), and author Dr.Paul Koudounaris for his Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasure & Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs. With such an interesting roster, I had to ask Lee Joseph what he enjoys most about his career.
Working with and getting to know many extremely creative artists as well as forging friendships with promoters, gallerists and writers. I am fortunate to work with a lot of amazing human beings. A while back, I was at an art show with a friend who is a teacher – one of my then clients, an owner of a gallery, came up, gave me a huge hug and said “I love you!” As she walked away, I looked at my teacher friend and said – do you have that kind of relationship with your co-workers? She looked at me and said, “no!”
Jennifer Gross the founder of EMG, Evolutionary Media Group, is a long-time New Yorker, born and raised in posh Manhattan. In the 80’s, Jennifer began working as a publicist at Sire and Warner Brothers Records, eventually covering both New York and Los Angeles, which gave her a great opportunity for locking in national PR. Record business PR allowed her to transition into hospitality, fashion, events and art public relations. EMG has a large clientele. While they are the publicists for several high profile Miami Art Week events and artists like Tim Youd, Beau Dunne, Flaunt Magazine’s “Affordable Care” at Mana Wynwood, and Chandran/Juxtapoz Magazine Beach House at the Shore Club, Jennifer has her own special moments from her career.
Some of the high points for me have been working with Shepard Fairey and the campaign we ran for Obama’s HOPE poster, the annual Grammy party Friends N Family, opening the Annenberg Space for Photography, being on the founding board of the non-profit arts organization The Mistake Room, working the PR for Coachella the first few years, and 10 nights of private Prince shows at The Roosevelt Hotel.
Jennifer thrives on the growth of the LA art scene and has many friends who have transitioned into the art world. Her general advice for artists who are looking for PR?
If you feel you need PR, you need to know who you are, who your audience is, and focus yourself completely in the direction you are aspiring to. There is a lot of competition to break out – and as an artist you have to be diligent, focused and assiduous.
Lynn Tejada, owner of Green Galactic, is a early techno lover from the rough green suburbs of Detroit. While growing up she developed an early passion for music and film. Working the corporate world by day, she would work late nights at dance clubs, and started out promoting a few shows. These few shows grew to promoting over 200 shows and live events in Hollywood for over a decade, and her PR career flourished.
As I learned how to promote those shows and get media coverage and bodies in seats, I discovered I was a “natural” at publicity. So it’s very important that the client and publicist relationship is open, communicative, mutually respectful, and there’s a real understanding of “what’s happening” and what’s being done to help the client’s cause regardless of final press coverage results. For instance, a lot of great “planting the seeds” should be taking place with every campaign.
Over the years, Green Galactic has had a long and diverse clientele including Create:Fixate, Thomas Solomon Gallery, Linda Sibio, Joshua Gabriel, Rachel Rosenthal, O-Lan Jones, Theatre Raymond Kabbaz, and award winning filmmaker and author Jon Reiss on his documentary, Bomb It 2. Green Galactic considers themselves a grass-roots organization, working and building awareness from the street on up, and they also find themselves working high-profile organizations and events according to Green Galactic marketing expert, Charlene Boehne.
Jen DiSisto, the owner and founder of Art Duet, began her career in the publicity department at Putnam Publishing in New York working on book tours and author appearances. She then moved to Los Angeles, working as a music publicist at a major PR firm, before delving into management and other areas of the music industry, including several years in the Art Department at Warner Bros. Records. It was there that her passion and interest in art and photography became abundantly apparent, so she left the label and created Art Duet to combine her skills and her passion.
Ever since I was a small child I was fascinated with anything art related. I was absolutely smitten and fascinated. Images would be etched in my head for nights upon nights with thoughts of “how did they do that?” I think many people that work in a field with artists are completely passionate about art, music, whatever it may be and remain purposely close to it.
Jen DiSisto’s current clientele includes musician/artist Brandon Boyd, Janette Beckman, plus Project Gallery working recent exhibits featuring CANTSTOPGOODBOY, Timothy White, The Morrison Hotel, Brian Batt, and Serj Tankian. I asked Jen her favorite moments in her career.
High points for me are definitely the inspirational people I have the honor of working with such as Alan Aldridge, Brandon Boyd, Janette Beckman,Neil Zlozower, Timothy White and many others. I also LOVE when I see people discover an artist or be seriously taken and moved by a piece or project. And I still get really excited when preparing for an opening / event. Sometimes you feel a dream or goal realized in real time, and that’s cool.
Author Paul Koudounaris (left) and Lee Joseph
Photo Credit: Lynn Tejada/Green Galactic by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging